Beast Friendship and Vassals

Last session an explorer PC in my party with beast friendship encountered a pack of wolves and got a natural 12 on the reaction roll. While she is not high enough level to acquire an animal henchmen with 2HD (she is level 2), she and the wolves are friendly enough that she can easily recruit one later, even the alpha.

I was pondering the ramifications of recruiting the alpha male in a pack as a henchman and how this would translate into ACKS terms. Then I remembered an often repeated joke I had:

a. You can turn henchmen into vassals
b. Beast friendship allows you to take animals as henchmen
c. Therefore, you can have animal vassals

It was meant to be absurd at the time (mostly because I was imagining a more-or-less standard vassal-domain), but I can quite clearly imagine an explorer with a pack of wolves that would hear her call to arms.

Now a wolf pack would be very different from a normal domain. In the “monsters” chapter of ACKS the max rolled size for a wolf pack is 18 + 4 pups and Wikipedia says that the largest recorded wolf pack had 42 members (including young), so your capacity for growth is probably pretty low. Furthermore, they are unlikely to make you much, if any, money, (I could see some help in hunting or gathering certain monster-parts, but that’s a stretch). There is the possible advantage in a call to arms of getting wolves, but unless we really skew the sizes of wolf communities, you aren’t talking many individuals.

Then again, this isn’t necessarily supposed to compete with a full vassal domain, but serve as a flavorful consolation/bonus for those who want animal henchmen.

Personally, I’m more confused about the other ramifications about animals as henchmen- Do they still expect a half share of the loot? Do they gain levels normally? Do they need a monthly wage? What happens if you try to recruit a bear henchman and get the “Refuse and slander” result?

The way we play it:

  1. They don’t expect loot, but do expect to be fed (though we tend to hand wave food costs, though we currently have fairly small animal henchmen).
  2. They level up as if they got a half share (as normal for henchmen) using the monster-level-up rules listed under “transformations” in the GM (secrets) section. In fact, leveling up is one of the main benefits of an animal henchman.
  3. We have hand-waived the monthly wage, but a food cost should probably be factored in based on animal size and diet (likely less costly than an equivalent HD human/demi-human)
  4. If a bear refuses and slanders you, he might piss on you, I guess. No animal wants to deal with the guy who smells of bear urine. It would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, but it would probably be some indignity or other.

Generally, while there seem to be some advantages in the upkeep of animals, you have to remember that you are paying a class proficiency for the privilege of getting henchmen who lack thumbs and good communication skills. On the plus side, they may have certain hard to obtain abilities, like flight.

I think there might be something to be said for an animal domain - get wolf henchman, level until it is The Best Wolf. Thoroughly explore a large number of hexes, aggregating wolves to your pack by defeating their alphas, and relocate them to some central point. Build massive den as stronghold. Collect taxes in furs of creatures eaten.

The more reasonable thing to do with beast henchmen and their packs might be garrison duty in borderlands and uncivilized hexes, or as a loyal+hard-to-bribe+not-too-bright royal guard.

I did a Google search to find the absolute limits of wolf organization and found one unique instance when incredibly harsh conditions in the winter of 2010-2011 caused wolves in Russia to group into a 400-strong “super-pack”. Apparently they took down more than 30 horses in just 4 days. While this is a definite outlier caused by extreme circumstances (lack of ordinary prey making horses the most efficient prey choice) and probably wouldn’t have lasted even without human hunting, it does offer some justification for believing that wolves can form large social structures. Since we are discussing a fantasy game after all and the semi-mystical powers of beast friendship and leveling up animals, I’d say it should be fine to exaggerate. It is quite possible that the “super pack” was comprised of a loose alliance of sup-packs that might be modeled as a “realm” (super-pack) of multiple “domains” (packs), though really any comparison of wolf pack dynamics with human government would be a stretch to say the least.

The relocation and concentration of wolf alphas is probably a bad plan since packs tend to spread out to ensure sufficient territory for hunting. Less territory means less food to go around forcing you to supplement the food with your own livestock, reducing your profits. You could trade food for furs (if you managed that level of communication), but it is not certain if you would come out ahead nor if wolf kills leave pelts that are fit for use.

The garrison/royal guard thing has merit, though we are talking boarder fort of a nature-loving explorer, so it might “royal guard” might not have the most accurate connotation. As for “loyal+hard-to-bribe+not-too-bright”: While loyal, it is not particularly hard to bribe an an animal if you have bacon, and if you are comparing wolves to the average 2 bit mercenary henchman, I’m not sure you are losing TOO much in the way of brains. :stuck_out_tongue:

Today I learned!

I am not horribly concerned about hunting areas and alpha predator concentrations, since the random encounter tables could already give you… 9 lairs of wolves in a forest hex, at up to what, 20 wolves per pack? You could certainly set that as an upper limit for wolf population density, but I wouldn’t make it any more complex than that. And on production… if peasants can farm in the desert for 3 gp / family / mo., I’m OK with throwing a few bones to the wolves.

Perhaps ‘hard to bribe’ is less accurate than ‘hard to permanently coopt / loyal’. And no, I did mean “bring them into the capital city, have them sit watch next to your bejeweled throne, and have traitors taken to the wolf kennels”. It only has to be borderlands when you establish it :stuck_out_tongue:

It’s possible you could use Alex’s maximum population density for nomadic cultures for a domain of wolves ruled by your super-intelligent wolf companion.

And I think that’s an awesome idea. If I had a beast friendship character, I would totally let that happen.

This is officially the most awesome thread ever, and when we start our ACKS fanzine I want to see someone write this into a set of Animal Domain rules.


Realistically, the difference between the social structures of different species would be greater than the differences between different classes of humans and demi-humans in many cases, but there is little sense in making rules for each individual species. We’d have to either limit the species that can have domains and/or attempt to group animals that have similar social structures (i.e. pack-hunters, bird-flocks, etc.).

Maybe we can use the maximum size of a rolled lair/wilderness encounter as a yardstick to determine maximum group size (and maybe even population growth). How about:

[Max population] = [max lair encounter number] * [HD of animal henchman] / [HD of normal individual]

This would mean that an animal with twice as many HD as a normal member of the species could have a pack twice as large. Max lair encounter size means that social animals can be more numerous and then the ratio of your henchman’s HD to standard HD for the species is a good rule of thumb for just how awesome and unrealistically powerful your pet is. It also makes it harder to get large numbers of large creatures but easy to get swarms of small creatures like rats.

If we are going into beast vassals, it might be a good idea to consider the possibility of non-humanoid vassals of other types, such as ghouls who serve a necromancer for scraps and the promise of their favorite meal, fey who may take an interest in an explorer who protects their forest, or even more exotic beasts. I’m wondering if there should be a proficiency requirement for this option too to make this sort of thing rarer, so as to encourage more standard domains.

You could also assume that animals are somewhat like in stories like the Lion King… They can more or less communicate with each other, and they function in an animal version of human society. They different species are mostly different in intelligence and personality. It’s a sort of faerie tale view of animals, but we can put things anywhere on the continuum from modern science to faerie tales in the game.

The lion is king of the forest, but he’s only a duke in ACKS terms.

This does bring up the subject of domain moral. What is the penalty to moral for eating your subjects?

For a more semi-realistic, single-species domain, moral is also an issue. Keeping animals comfortable and well-fed would likely be the main components of good moral, but keeping certain species under control might be literally as hard as herding cats.